OCEAN CITY – The Town of Ocean City is planning to collect proposals for a pay-by-phone smart phone app for parking in the hopes of having it active by this summer season.
The Transportation Commission met on Tuesday morning to discuss the potential of a parking pay-by-phone smart phone app. Following the presentation, the commission was in consensus to forward a favorable recommendation to the full Mayor and City Council at the work session later that day for approval to pursue vendors in order to have the app active by the 2015 summer season.
Public Works Deputy Director John VanFossen recognized a pay-by-phone app as an “On the Horizon” objective in the town’s Strategic Plan for “Quality of Life Services”, and Public Works has been reviewing information on mobile applications to provide pay-by-phone services for Ocean City’s Cale parking meter program. Using a smart phone app, patrons will have the convenience to pay for parking using their smart phone or tablet. This type of program would improve services by offering an additional option of payment for the Town of Ocean City.
VanFossen listed advantages of a pay-by-phone for parking app starting with providing another means of payment for patrons; a convenience of use without needing cash or credit card; its user friendly and provides a better experience in parking; its quick and easy with QR code recognition; its GPS capable so it will guide patrons back to their car after parking; there is mapping of city parking locations on the smartphone; patrons receive text alerts when the meter is about expire and extend time from a remote location; it will help reduce parking tickets or fines issued; provides real time enforcement with Wi-Fi connectivity; there will be less coin collections and handling; metropolitan areas are already familiar with the app; and people prefer to use pay-by-phone parking.
Customers using the pay-by-phone option would pay a 50-cent per transaction user fee to the service provider of which the Town of Ocean City would receive a 15-cent portion, and though there is no cost of implementation to the city’s Cale parking meter system for pay-by-phone software, there is an additional cost for real time communications to the city’s existing enforcement hardware to add Wi-Fi capability.
Currently, there are deficiencies within the city’s enforcement ticketing hardware and software and upgrades would be required for integration to provide pay-by-phone service. According to Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Captain Kevin Kirstein, the OCPD is in favor of the upgrade. The initial cost is $5,000.
“Currently you cannot pay your ticket immediately if you wanted to because our existing system has to be downloaded after the officer’s return to the station at the end of their shift and then the information becomes available, so there is a time delay with the system,” VanFossen explained.
The 2014 paid parking season from April 4 to Oct. 19 resulted in $268,000 in cash parking revenue and $1,396,000 in credit card parking revenue totaling $1,664,000. There were a total of 266,449 credit card transactions. A 10-percent use of a pay-by-phone app is a potential increase of $4,000 in revenue, 20 percent use is a potential $8,000 increase and a 30 percent use is a potential $12,000 increase.
“There is an initial cost that is minor in comparison to the overall revenue that we take in under our parking operation, and there is definitely savings for the town. You can look at it as a savings or revenue generator … It appears to be a win-win for the town and the user,” VanFossen said.
A pay-by-phone service vendor would provide the Town of Ocean City with all needed printed information, social media enhancements, sign material and assistance required for completion to implement for the 2015 summer season.
“One key thing we looked at was the demographics and where we draw our visitors from. One of the particular vendors has 75,000 registered users already, so we would like to pursue them and other vendors out there to see what they have to offer,” VanFossen said.
At the Mayor and City Council work session later that day, Transportation Commission Chair and Mayor Rick Meehan brought forward the concept.
“In our discussion, we talked about all the advantages in providing another means of payment for our customers. It is a convenience, and it allows customers to get an alert if they are on the beach that their meter is about to expire, and they can pay right there from their phone so they won’t get a ticket. Our goal is to get people to pay the meters for parking and not get a ticket,” the mayor said. “We are looking to reduce tickets and fines but increase revenue by allowing people a better opportunity to make those payments in a timely manner without having to go back and feed the meter that we all know can be cumbersome.”
Meehan pointed out pay-by-phone apps is seen in many cities, as close as Bethany Beach, Rehoboth Beach and Lewes, and many visitors will already have the apps downloaded to use from using it in other areas.
“It doesn’t replace the way you currently pay for parking. You will still be able to use cash or credit card at the Cale stations. This would be an alternative means of making that payment,” the mayor said.
VanFossen explained to the council, if patrons choose to pay-by-phone they insert their license plate number and will not have a printed receipt displayed on their vehicle that is provided by the Cale machine. The officer’s updated equipment will verify the vehicles license plate to know if it has paid to park.
“The reason we are bringing it to you today is if you approve the basic concept, the unanimous recommendation of the Transportation Commission is staff will follow the proper procurement policy to solicit vendor proposals from within the area,” the mayor said. “Time is of the essence, and if you approve it today we can have those proposals brought back for recommendation and have this ready by summer.”
The council voted 6-0 with Councilman Tony DeLuca absent to approve staff moving forward in collecting proposals from pay-by-phone for parking vendors to have the operation active by this summer season.